With about four minutes left in its Section VI Class B-1 quarterfinal game with Depew, Lackawanna had a big lead. But the Steeler seniors wanted to make it bigger, to make certain that their program was going back to Buffalo State.
In a play that typified the Steelers’ relentless effort, senior Shaquille Brooks dived to the floor for a loose ball, knocked it to fellow senior Ahmad Abdo, who followed with a great dribble-drive and a no-look feed to sophomore Larry Fields for a basket and the Steelers’ first 20-point lead of the night.
Hustle like that from Brooks, excellent defensive pressure and selflessness on offense combined to propel the Steelers to a 76-57 victory over Depew in a matchup of two programs that are very used to advancing to the semifinals at Buffalo State.
Lackawanna had made 10 straight trips before missing last year. Depew had made not only the final four, but the sectional finals, in five of the last six seasons.
“It feels so good, so good,” said Brooks, who had 11 points, delivered key blocked shots and had several other hustle plays. “Since day one, it’s been about making it to Buff State, making it further than Buff State. It’s my last year – there aren’t sports after this – so it’s just go all out.
“We run the floor, value the ball and play together. We have moments where we go off and do our own thing, but tonight we played as a team.”
Lackawanna (16-3), the second seed in B-1, heads to Buffalo State on Monday at 8:30 p.m. to face third-seeded East Aurora in the semifinals.
Abdo, a 5-foot-10 senior, led the Steelers with 20 points while 5-9 sophomore Damone Sylvers had 15 and 5-10 junior Cam Smith had 14. All three guards spent the game helping to cause Depew turnovers.
“It wasn’t one guy who did it for us – that was the best we’ve played as a group defensively all year. For us to be successful, we have to keep that pressure on, and that’s what we did tonight,” said coach Tim Foley, who has been at Lackawanna for the decade-plus of success in getting to Buffalo State. “It’s a great atmosphere over there, and that’s what you play for as a high school basketball player. That was one of our focuses. We’re going to try and keep playing.”
Depew took a 16-14 lead after one quarter by fighting off Lackawanna’s first wave of pressure defense. The Steelers rode another to a 23-14 second quarter that put them up, 37-30, at halftime. The Steelers started the third quarter with a great burst.
The Wildcats got a three-pointer from Denis Vanini in the final seconds of the quarter to stay within eight (53-45) entering the fourth. Depew made the first basket of the final quarter but then the Steelers were off and running again.
Turnovers caused by the pressure defense led to a 16-2 run by the Steelers. Brooks’ hustle play capped the run which closed with the Steelers holding a 69-49 lead.
“In the time we’ve met Lackawanna, that’s the most disciplined, unselfish group of Lackawanna kids we’ve ever played,” said 10th-year Depew coach Larry Jones, whose Wildcats beat Lackawanna twice in recent trips to Buffalo State. “With four minutes to go, Brooks dives flat-out to tip the ball to his teammates; that’s what leaders do.”
Junior Derrick Sekurterski led Depew (12-8) with 19 points while Vanini made three three-pointers and finished with 11 points.